Tag Archives: Bob Benson

CAMTC: Under the Gun, ABMP Says “Declare Victory and Move On”

I’ve spent the past day or so reviewing the CAMTC Sunset Review Report…at over 200 pages, it’s a narrative of the who, what, where, when, and why of the organization, which is now in its fifth year.

California operates differently from the other regulated states. The CAMTC is not officially a state regulatory board. It is a non-profit organization, offering voluntary certification. It is just my opinion that this is a big improvement over the previous state of affairs there, when there was nothing at all, other than each municipality regulating as they chose, which more often that not meant that legitimate massage therapists were classified along with sex workers and treated the same way. I’ve heard horror stories from therapists who have in the past been made to take a test for STDs, along with paying money to each individual town in which one was practicing. Someone doing outcalls may have been looking at a separate license and another financial burden in many different places. The CAMTC aimed to put a stop to this by getting it into the statutes that if you had the CAMTC certification, you were allowed to skip all the local hoops. It was a very hard battle.

During the Sunset hearing process last week, ABMP Chairman Bob Benson testified. Benson served the CAMTC Board for four years, including a term as the initial Vice Chair. He attended 51 of the 52 meetings held during his tenure. His complete testimony may be read here. Benson’s opening remarks referenced the Vietnam war, in speaking to the present state of affairs at the CAMTC, and he urged the organization to “Declare victory and move on.” I have heard from several veterans who were very upset about that analogy and feel that Benson’s remarks showed a great disrespect for the people who served in Vietnam and a cheapening of those who lost their lives there. I have met Benson personally on several occasions and I don’t think he would intentionally insult veterans, but I have to agree it was not the best choice for comparison.

Beyond that opening faux pas, Benson brings up the following points about the weaknesses he perceives in the CAMTC. One is that CEO Ahmos Netanel is wearing too many hats. There is no controller or operations officer or chief financial officer; Netanel is doing all three jobs, apparently. There’s no doubt he’s a busy man; I run into him myself at national meetings.

Benson also points out other problems: the unwieldy size of the Board–20 people (although currently there are only 19); the fact that there is no central office, which leads to communication and control challenges; a lack of adequate information on the website and delays in getting things posted; 5 years in operation and as of yet no customer satisfaction surveys; a lack of data on how much the CAMTC is paying their management company; a lack of salary standards, and unsatisfactory performance metrics for the dissemination about applicants and certificate holders.He also actually refers to their plan to start approving establishments and massage schools as “delusional.”

Benson isn’t one to complain without offering a solution, so his suggestions are the transition of this organization into a formal state regulatory board, as the other regulated states have; to substitute mandatory licensing for voluntary certification; to use 2015 as a transitional year; and to honor CAMTC certificates and allow holders to convert them to a state license on their expiration date without jumping through any further hoops.

I contacted Ahmos Netanel and gave him the opportunity to respond to Benson’s comments. His reply below is verbatim:

In his comments during the March 10, 2014 legislative Joint Oversight Hearing: Sunset Review of CAMTC, Bob Benson, acting as the voice of ABMP (Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals), advocates for dismantling the current statewide certification program and instituting a state board for regulating massage therapy under the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Bob Benson is certainly dedicated to the massage profession; however, he is a minority voice.  In fact, no CAMTC Board member has ever expressed a position similar to his.

The CAMTC Board has accomplished a great deal.  Yes, as with any new organization, there is room for improvement.  However, in a very short time, by any standard, we have put a statewide infrastructure in place to work closely with police and local government, and there is no doubt that consumers can have confidence that a CAMTC certified professional is educated to safely provide care. 

CAMTC has done more than simply oversee the certification of qualified massage therapy professionals. CAMTC has initiated work with local authorities, local elected officials, professional organizations, other stakeholders and the Legislature to modify its enabling law to correct issues and oversights. Presently, the Sunset review process implemented by the Legislature allows for the substantive amendments needed to control illegal massage parlors.  In doing so, we want to be respectful of the work being done by legitimate massage providers and not return to the era of onerous patchwork enforcement— the kind of control that simply assumes massage is adult entertainment.

CAMTC also investigates and un-approves schools as part of ensuring that certification candidates met strict educational requirements.  Ironically, the state bureau which regulates private post-secondary schools, now BPPE, was allowed to sunset between July 2007 and January 2009.  The lack of an official school oversight body during that time had a significant negative impact on the massage industry and the safety of the public.  Stepping in since 2010, CAMTC, with only minimal resources, has been able to un-approve 47 massage schools that were not meeting minimum standards for massage education and we hope to do more beginning in 2015.

In the ongoing and important effort to eradicate illegal massage parlors, CAMTC is asking the Legislature for the authority to provide statewide registration and investigation of massage establishments.  Many local jurisdictions lack the resources to effectively stem the tide of these illicit businesses and CAMTC is up to the challenge. 

The problems raised by the police chiefs and the cities are our problems, too.  Their complaints and concerns are issues we are addressing with great success in many parts of California.  For example, our training programs have been attended by more than 100 local agencies. And many cities – impressed by our organization – now require CAMTC certification. 

The proliferation of illegal massage parlors is bigger than massage therapy alone, but we are an integral part of the solution.  We propose:

  • Raising educational standards
  • Establishing a registration program for establishments
  • Expending local government control over the use of massage as a subterfuge for prostitution

A state board under DCA has merit. It also has significant drawbacks, including starting a new entity from scratch. It is likely that a new state board would take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to become fully operational.  The cost in terms of time and state resources is not warranted when CAMTC is already in place and functioning successfully. 

Further, a state board simply cannot function as efficiently as a private entity like CAMTC.  Consider, as was discussed on March 10th in the Joint Oversight hearing for the DCA, that the current time for disciplinary actions by DCA boards is 540 days, despite the target of 180 days.  Just scheduling a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings takes approximately 200 days (testimony by the Legislative Analyst’s Office). Furthermore, the cost to discipline or revoke a state license is over ten times greater than what it costs CAMTC  to discipline or revoke a certificate holder.  CAMTC provides a high level of due process to certificate holders at a lower cost and in fraction of the time that it takes a state board to do the same.

Whatever the merits of moving to a state board under the DCA, it is not going to happen by magic nor will it happen overnight.  It will be a long, costly process. And dismantling CAMTC won’t benefit California consumers or those individuals practicing massage therapy in California.  Rather, it will leave a gaping chasm for both.  

Legitimate massage providers create jobs, promote a healthy lifestyle, and enhance communities.  We cannot go back to the antiquated and oppressive patchwork regulation of the past.  It won’t solve the problem of illicit massage parlors or correct any of the other issues about which cities are concerned.  Only working together – CAMTC alongside cities – can we protect both the public and legitimate massage providers. 

CAMTC is proud of its successes and we look forward to working with the police chiefs, the local communities and Bob himself to do great things for the massage therapy profession and the public.

Respectfully,

Ahmos Netanel

Chief Executive Officer

California Massage Therapy Council

I do not wish to minimize any of the accomplishments and hard work of the CAMTC. I applaud what they have done. However, I’m in agreement with Benson on this one; I’d prefer to see them with mandatory licensing instead of voluntary certification. It won’t be the answer to every problem; it never is. But I do urge them to make the transition, and hopefully, that can be accomplished without the gaping chasm Netanel mentioned.

 

 

 

Behind Closed Doors

From the title, you might think this blog is about The Client List, the trashy new show on the Lifetime Channel that gives massage therapy a black eye. No such luck; the event I am referring to is the upcoming Leadership Summit #2, set to take place next week in Chicago.

The first Leadership Summit (to clarify: there were summits in 2003-04 before AFMTE and FSMTB existed) took place last September in St. Louis, with the executive directors and chairs of ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, the Massage Therapy Foundation, FSMTB, COMTA, and NCBTMB in attendance. It was a historic event in that it was the first time all seven of these organizations had come together in the best interests of the profession. The purpose, according to the press release announcing the meeting, “was to hold a beginning conversation about major structural issues and impediments to profession progress. The desire is to have candid exchange about core challenges, quality concerns, consumer expectations and organizational roles.”

Apparently, one of the hot topics at this week’s meeting is going to be the number of required entry-level education hours. Although this was not on the agreed-upon agenda at the first meeting, it was introduced anyway by ABMP Chairman Bob Benson, complete with a thorough proposal prepared by Anne Williams, Director of Education at ABMP. Basically, the proposal was for a task force to be formed immediately, and using Job Task Analyses that have been conducted by the NCBTMB and the FSMTB, to nail down a definite number of hours that should be required for entry-level education. This was contrary to the facilitator’s recommendation—and the group’s agreement— that they would spend the initial meeting identifying problems, and would address possible solutions for these problems at meetings to follow.

In the interest of the leaders being comfortable in speaking freely, these are closed meetings—no press and no other staff members in attendance—an executive session, so to speak. Certainly not without precedent; boards have executive sessions all the time—usually to discuss personnel matters or other things that would violate someone’s privacy if they were discussed in public.

That’s not exactly the case here; and while I am thrilled that our leaders—some of whom are from competing organizations—are sitting down at the table together, my concern is that a small group of people has the power to decide (or worse, just think they have the power to decide), what is best for the profession on the whole, without getting input from the people it affects—you and me. Practitioners, school owners, teachers, CE providers, the regulatory community, all have a vested interest in the future of our profession, and I don’t think that should be decided by an exclusive group behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, that is just what the ABMP proposal states in no uncertain terms. Verbatim, Williams’ proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

The sentence that disturbs me there is “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.” Any time you start to think it doesn’t matter what stakeholders think, there’s a problem, in my humble opinion, no matter what the issue. Stakeholders are the ones it will affect, and to think their opinion isn’t important is just beyond the pale.

At the recent ABMP School Issues Forum in Austin, Texas, Bob Benson stated to those in attendance that there was 100% consensus in support of this standards-setting proposal from the organizations that attended the Leadership Summit. That’s not exactly so. COMTA, FSMTB, and AFMTE all expressed concerns after the proposal was introduced in September; they are not petty concerns, and they do not appear in any way to be based on politics or turf wars.
This is bad business for two primary reasons: First, any project that has the potential to affect the entire massage therapy profession should not be designed, approved, and launched in secret. Changing the baseline numbers of entry-level education required for state licensure is a huge thing, as it will affect schools, regulators, and future students.

By contrast, the MTBOK project modeled appropriate transparency, and the massage community had adequate opportunities for input along the way.

Second, it is more important right now that our primary stakeholder organizations learn to work together in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation—than to plunge headlong into a major problem-solving project when consensus has NOT been reached. The end does not justify the means. Some of my own issues are that the MTBOK and the competency-based curriculum standards set forth by COMTA aren’t even being given consideration. This proposal also overlooks the fact that the AFMTE is currently working on a National Teacher Standards Education Project. A huge amount of work has gone into creating both the MTBOK and the COMTA standards; a huge amount of work from some of the best educators in the business is going into the AFMTE project, and for these to be cast aside when they have direct relevance to this proposal is irresponsible to say the least.

During our troublesome economy of the past few years—and it doesn’t appear to be over yet—school owners have been seriously affected already, and having a nation-wide upheaval based on an “official” number of required hours is not the be-all end-all solution to licensing portability. It will just serve to put an additional burden into the mix at the present time. The lack of portability may be an irritant to our field, but it is not causing harm to the public.

The AMTA Board of Directors voted last October to support the project in its present form. As ABMP and AMTA are the two largest professional membership associations, they carry a big stick. That doesn’t mean their agendas should be force-fed to the profession, and I hope that they will reconsider both the timeline, and the very valid concerns raised by the other organizations before barging ahead with this project. I am certainly not saying that it never needs to happen. I am just saying it doesn’t need to happen on speed-dial until all of these issues have been ironed out. I hate to see good intentions canceled out by unchecked enthusiasm for rushing something to market; I hate to see valid concerns from the other organizations swept under the carpet; and I hate to see the opinion that what the stakeholders think doesn’t matter.

When you’re meeting behind closed doors, it’s easy to forget who the stakeholders are. I’m one of them. I’m a member of both AMTA and ABMP, a founding member of the AFMTE, a past delegate to the FSMTB, a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist & Bodyworker, an Approved Provider under the NCBTMB, and a current site reviewer for COMTA, so I do indeed have a vested interest. I don’t appreciate our national organizations acting as if my opinion and that of the other thousands of massage therapists, school owners, and others who enable your very existence on this planet don’t matter.

At this week’s Summit, the representatives of these seven organizations have an opportunity to address this issue that has divided the group, and to get their process back on track. I hope that they also remember the responsibility that they have to their own members, and to the profession as a whole. To use ABMP’s own slogan here, we “Expect More” from our leaders.

Kudos, and a Few Thumps on the Head

The year is winding down; all the award shows have been on television lately, and I’d like to give out a few of my own, along with a thump or two on the head of those who need it. Call me a critic! These are my opinions only and should not be construed as the opinion of anyone else.

Kudos to Rick Rosen for starting the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and to the organization for putting on one of the best meetings I’ve ever attended earlier this year, and for taking the initiative to set some standards for teaching massage. If you are involved in massage education and you haven’t joined yet, I suggest you quit procrastinating.

Kudos to the Massage Therapy Foundation for all the work they do in promoting research in the field, and in particular for offering classes in Teaching Research Literacy. And to Ruth Werner for being such a fabulous ambassador for the organization.

Kudos to the executive officers and chairs of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, the American Massage Therapy Association, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, the Massage Therapy Foundation, and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork for coming together this year at the Leadership Summit, and particular kudos to Bob Benson of ABMP for taking the responsibility for making that happen.

Kudos to Paul Lindamood, former CEO of the NCBTMB, for doing such a great job in putting that organization’s finances back in order. I was very sorry to see him go.

Kudos to AMTA, in particular the Oregon Chapter, and Glenath Moyle, National President, for putting on one of the best conventions in my memory. Kudos also the the thousands of AMTA members who volunteer at their chapters and the national level.

Kudos to ABMP for their generosity in allowing everyone, regardless of what organization they belong to (or none at all) to read Massage & Bodywork Magazine online for free, and for providing the huge forum at www.massageprofessionals.com, which is also open to everyone.

Kudos to Facebook. Not only are they my favorite place to hang out online, they are also spending millions of dollars building their new data center in my hometown, and providing much-needed employment in a very economically depressed area.

Kudos to Dr. Christopher Moyer, Bodhi Haraldsson, Paul Ingraham, Ravensara Travillian, Alice Sanvito, Rose Chunco, and the other folks out there who keep beating the drum for Evidence-Based Practice of massage.

Kudos to Jan Schwartz, Whitney Lowe, and Judith McDaniel of Education Training and Solutions. They don’t toot their own horn enough about some of the excellent work they have done for the Massage Therapy Foundation, the World Skin Project, and in general advancing excellence in online education.

Kudos to Angie Patrick of Massage Warehouse for her tireless work in the Sanctuary and raising money through massage for the Massage Therapy Foundation, the Liddle Kidz Foundation, and other worthy causes.

Kudos to all the massage therapists in the trenches, who give of their time in performing community service and their income to support deserving populations and those who can’t afford massage. I know hundreds of them so I just can’t list them all here, but every day, someone is out there donating the awesome power of touch in hospices, abused women’s shelters, the VA hospitals, homeless shelters, and hospitals. Bless them all.

Kudos to all those teachers out there who have what I refer to as “a higher calling.” Those who are teaching hospice massage, cancer massage, pediatric massage…There are too many to name, but they are led to work with the sick, the dying, the special-needs. Bless them all, and those they teach.

Kudos to any massage school and/or instructor who is teaching their students to be research literate.

And now, a few thumps on the head. The names have been omitted so as not to put the magazines who publish my blog in danger of a lawsuit, but you know who you are:

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I’m better than any doctor or chiropractor. I will heal you when they can’t.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I don’t refer out to anybody. No one is as good as I am.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say to their clients “You really need this  (expensive water filter, nutritional supplements, foot patches, juice by so-and-so) etc that I am selling.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who say “I don’t need continuing education. I already know everything there is to know.”

A thump on the head to the therapists who impose energy work on every client who gets on their table, as if it is some God-given right, when the client hasn’t asked for it, doesn’t want it or believe in it, and it hasn’t been discussed.

A thump on the head to the therapists who are telling their clients that massage is detoxifying them and that they need to drink a lot of water to flush out their toxins.

A thump on the head to the therapists on massage forums who can’t behave and can’t have civil discourse, and instead resort to name-calling and personal attacks.

A thump on the head to the therapists on Facebook who are identifying themselves as MTs and posting pictures of themselves that look like they belong in the centerfold of Hustler.

I could thump all day–and give kudos all day–but I’ll save some for a future blog.

The Leaders of the Massage Profession

Last week, the leaders of all the major organizations representing the massage therapy profession came together in St. Louis for a Massage Therapy Leadership Summit.

The Leaders of the Massage Profession

The Leaders of the Massage ProfessionMassage Therapy Leadership Summit meeting. The executive directors, CEOs, and board chairs of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE), the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP), the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA), the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB), the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF), and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork were all in attendance.

I have personally prayed for this to happen for a long time, and was thrilled that it took place. Rick Rosen, Executive Director of the AFMTE, shared this photo on my Facebook page. I of course spread it through my networks, and it prompted a question from Julie Onofrio: “Are these people massage therapists, and have they ever been in practice?” I’ll try to answer that to the best of my ability. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all these folks, and I know some of them better than others. In the event I get any of the facts wrong here, I’m sure someone can straighten me out!

I will say up front that as for the most part these are organizations that have many members, huge budgets, and myriad issues and details to take care of, I don’t believe that being a massage therapist is a prerequisite for being a CEO or an ED. That is a position that generally requires a college education, and enough expertise to run a multi-million dollar concern. The AFMTE is only two years old–they don’t quite fall into that category yet, but they will someday. Leadership of such an organization doesn’t necessarily require one to be a massage therapist, although it would certainly require an interest in massage. Here’s my scoop on the leaders:

Rick Rosen, the founder and Executive Director of the AFMTE is indeed a licensed massage therapist. In fact, he is the proud owner of the first massage therapy license issued in the state of North Carolina. He is the co-founder, along with his wife Carey Smith, of the Body Therapy Institute in Siler City, NC, which they started in 1983. It is one of only two COMTA-approved schools in the state. He was the founding chairman and a past member of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, and was the first Executive Director of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. He currently serves as Executive Director of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, a national organization for massage schools, teachers and continuing education providers. Rick is a 2010 inductee into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame, and was named as one of the Top 10 People in Integrative Medicine/Integrative Health Care in 2010. He also has a degree in advertising from the University of Florida, a master’s in humanistic psychology from West Georgia College, is certified by the Hakomi Institute body-centered psychology, is certified in structural integration, and is a graduate of the Florida School of Massage.

Pete Whitridge, the President of the AFMTE, has been a massage therapist since 1987 and has been an instructor at the Florida School of Massage since 1989. He has served AMTA on the Council of Schools, served 5 years on the Florida Board of Massage including being the Chair, served COMTA as a reviewer, has also served on the faculty of the Spacecoast Health Institute for 14 years, and Indian River Community College for 7 years. He is also on the Education Committee of the Massage Therapy Foundation. Pete also has a BA in History and Political Science.

Shelly Johnson, Executive Director of AMTA, served as the Deputy Director for 8 years before being named ED in 2010 after the departure of Elizabeth Lucas. Shelly is not a massage therapist, but she has worked with associations for 22 years, including the American Society for Quality. She also was previously Executive Director for the American Society of Neuroscience Nurses, the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing, the Neuroscience Nursing Foundation and the American Society for Healthcare Materials Management of the American Hospital Association. Johnson has a BA in Political Science and Communication from Augsburg College.

Glenath Moyle, President of AMTA, gets the longevity award in this crowd! Glenath has been doing massage for more than 50 years. In her first career, she was a geriatric nurse, and massaging patients was a regular part of her routine. She attended massage school in Portland OR and started practicing in earnest in 1987. Prior to becoming the President of the national organization, Moyle was a tireless volunteer in her state chapter. Needless to say, she’s very excited that the national convention is coming to her hometown this year.

Bob Benson, the Chair of ABMP, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Prior to coming to ABMP, Benson worked in public policy in Washington, DC, and spent 19 years as President of two public companies. The membership of ABMP has grown by more than 10 times over since Benson came on the scene. He was the catalyst for the creation of the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards, notably funding that organization to get it off the ground, and he worked for nine years to get statewide regulation in California, where he now serves on the board of the California Massage Therapy Council.

Les is More! Les Sweeney, President of ABMP, joined the organization in 1994 after learning about association management at the Club Managers Association of America. He served as VP from 1999-2006. Sweeney has an MBA from the University of Colorado. In 2006, Les decided to step up to the plate and get an education in massage! He graduated from the Holistic Learning Center in Evergreen and became Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage. Les has expressed to me personally that he just wanted to know more about massage and get the “real feel” for what ABMP members do. Good for him for taking the plunge and investing in that.

Kate Zulaski is the Executive Director of COMTA. She has a BA in Geology, and attended the Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing in CA, and went on to become the Dean of Education at the school before joining COMTA in 2009.

Kate has in-depth experience both as a massage therapy practitioner as well as an educator, having most recently served as Dean of Education from 2006 to 2009 for the International Professional School of Bodywork (IPSB) in San Diego, California. Prior to being named Dean of Education, Zulaski also served as an IPSB Massage Instructor and Clinic Supervisor.  Zulaski has also studied a variety of bodywork modalities through the California Naturopathic College; Society of Ortho-Bionomy International; the Natural Healing Institute; and the International Professional School of Bodywork. She has been active in volunteer work for the AMTA Teacher of the Year Awards Committee and the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education Standards Committee, and is a long-time member of the ABMP.

Randy Swenson, a COMTA Commissioner who was also present, is a chiropractor. Dr. Swenson is currently a tenured professor and Dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences at National University of Health Sciences (NUHS). He developed the Massage Therapy Program in 1999 and continues to manage the day-to-day operations of the program. He is also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree completion and professional pre-requisite programs. He was previously the Academic Dean and the Dean of Curriculum Development for the chiropractic program at NUHS. He holds a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from NUHS and a Master of Health Professions Education from the Department of Medical Education of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has led NUHS Steering Committees for Higher Learning Commission Self-Study Reports (SSR) and Commission on Chiropractic Education SSR’s. He has led and written COMTA SSR’s for the NUHS massage program. Dr. Swenson has been a site-team member, site-team leader and off-site peer reviewer with COMTA since 2006.

Ruth Werner, fearless leader of the Massage Therapy Foundation, is the author of the Guide to Pathology for Massage Therapists and the Disease Handbook for Massage Therapists, both published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Werner is a graduate of the Brian Utting School of Massage in Seattle in 1985, and completed the Advanced Training Program and Teacher Training Program with the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, MA in 1991. I’ve attended a couple of classes (a definite privilege!) taught by Ruth, where she honestly shared with the class that she feels her real talent is sharing research about massage rather than actually doing massage. We’d all be a lot worse off if that wasn’t so. Her pathology book has been my go-to source from the moment I entered massage school. She has taught curriculum at 4 massage schools and continuing education classes all over the world.

Debra Persinger, Executive Director of the FSMTB, has a PhD in human services from Kansas State University. Dr. Persinger, a native of New Zealand, joined the National Certifying Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) in 1996. Before accepting the position of interim CEO, she served as the commission’s executive director of operations, and was originally hired to be its director of examination development. Persinger is also co-author of Sand to Sky: Conversations with Teachers of Asian Medicine (iUniverse, 2008).

Paul Lindamood, current CEO of the NCBTMB, has more than 20 years of executive-level experience. Lindamood has devoted his career to positioning, directing and promoting associations, professional firms, healthcare organizations, businesses and non-profits. In fact, it was in this capacity that he first began working with NCBTMB, directing the organization’s communications, public relations, media and re-branding strategies. He has worked with a wide-range of healthcare and non-profit organizations and led successful branding, fundraising, recruitment and consumer awareness initiatives for American Red Cross, United Way, International Association of Business Communicators, Jobs for Graduates, Leukemia Society of America, March of Dimes, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, City of Hope, Hospice, Junior Achievement, Small Business Administration, and many others.

Alexa Zaledonis, Chair of the NCBTMB, is the owner/operator of Even Keel Wellness Spa, a therapeutic massage and skin care center in Annapolis, Maryland. A graduate of the Baltimore School of Massage, she passed the NCE in 2002 and has spent the past seven years building her practice in the community.  Zaledonis is a certified Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage practitioner and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength Professionals Association. Zaledonis currently is completing her Yoga Teacher Training (RYT200). She also teaches Thai Massage seminars at Even Keel Institute for Continuing Education and is an NCBTMB-approved provider.

A former Certified Public Accountant, Zaledonis specialized in healthcare and nonprofit organizations for more than 15 years. She received her bachelor’s degree from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut. I spoke to Zaledonis earlier today, and she told me that in addition to working 40 hours a week on behalf of the NCBTMB, she also personally does an average of 17 massages a week. A fellow workaholic!

Well, folks, there you have it. So yes, many of these folks do have actual massage experience. And those that don’t have been around this business long enough to appreciate those of us who do. They have all, in my opinion, served the massage profession with the best of intentions and keeping their eyes on the fact that it is the massage therapists in the trenches that they are working for. May they all enjoy peace and prosperity.

Report from the NCBTMB Approved Provider/CE Meeting

I just got back from Chicago, where I participated in the Massage Approved Provider Panel convened by the NCBTMB. I have to say it was one of the best meetings I have ever attended. Everybody left their egos and their agendas at the door…not one single moment of tension or dissension occurred, in spite of the fact that competing entities were represented.

I spent the weekend sitting next to Bill Brown, Deputy Director of the AMTA. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Bill has wanted to strangle me a few times over my blog, and I’m glad he got the opportunity to know me a little better. I might have managed to convince him that I have a few redeeming qualities and I’m not just the crazy blogger he thought I was.

Cynthia Ribeiro, President-Elect of AMTA, was also present, and what a class act she is. I had supported Cynthia during the AMTA election, and there’s no doubt in my mind that was the right move. She is one fine lady who has made many contributions to our profession, and had a lot to contribute to the task at hand this week.

Bob Benson, Chairman of ABMP and Anne Williams, Director of Education for ABMP were there. Bob brought his considerable business acumen to the meeting. I’ve worked with Anne before and she’s just a go-getter who shares my philosophy of “make it happen.” She has a great sense of humor, too. There was a lot of laughing this week, which is always a great ice-breaker and good for the cohesiveness of the group.

The facilitator, Drew Lebby, provided exactly the right balance of keeping things moving, listening, and explaining. We had breakout groups and larger discussions and the whole meeting just had a great flow. Having been in meetings with some very boring facilitators in the past, I thought he was wonderful and I would highly recommend him to groups who are looking for a great facilitator. He has 35 years of experience at it and it shows.

I heartily applaud the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards for sending Kathy Jensen, VP of the FSMTB, and kudos to the NCBTMB for inviting the Federation to participate. Since the MBLEx has taken a huge chunk of the NCBTMB’s exam market share, and the Federation has also recently announced plans to jump into the CE approval arena, I can think of past administrations at the NCBTMB that would have spent the time sniping about the Federation as competition instead of inviting them to attend, all the more reason why I appreciate their willingness to play in the same sandbox. That theme was reiterated by Ribeiro and several others this week–this isn’t about your organization, or my organization, or who’s the biggest or the best–it’s about massage and increasing the quality of massage education.

COMTA was also represented by Commissioner Randy Swenson. Several state board members were in attendance, as were approved providers and a couple of nationally certified massage therapists.

The AFMTE was not represented, although they were invited to participate, and as a founding member of that organization I personally found their refusal to attend distressing. This meeting was about education, and in my opinion, they should have been there. I contacted Rick Rosen to give him the opportunity to explain their absence, and his response was that since the AFMTE has decided to partner with the FSMTB in developing their CE program, he felt it would blur the issue and divert their focus to attend.

Nice try, Rick, but since the Federation was invited, and in fact chose to participate in the meeting, I don’t buy it. The mere term “Alliance” suggests that you are representing education, and not just one faction of it. The Alliance could have made some great contributions to the meeting and you missed out on a good opportunity to do so. Rosen is of the opinion that the Federation should replace the NCBTMB and the individual states who do their own approvals as the only provider/CE approval entity. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that issue.

No one has been a more vocal critic of the NCBTMB than I have in the past, and I have defended the right of the FSMTB to offer their competing exam, as I don’t believe that any entity is entitled to a monopoly. I will go further and say that I don’t believe any entity is entitled to a monopoly in any arena, so I am not in support of the Federation having a monopoly on continuing education. They have the undeniable right to jump into the market if they choose, and the marketplace will decide. I am personally not going to be dictated to of which entity I have to throw my CE approval business to unless my state makes it a law that I have to choose one or the other. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

There are 42 member boards in the Federation and so far, although many states have voted to accept the MBLEx, and some have adopted it exclusively, many others have refused to throw out the NCB exams, and continue to give their licensees a choice in which exam to take. I believe the same thing will happen when it comes to continuing education. Some states will go with the FSMTB CE program, and others will continue to allow providers to make their own choice. It’s the American way. Furthermore, in many places legislative changes will be required in order to switch from one to another or add another approval entity, and we all know that legislation most often moves at the speed of molasses. That is also the American way.

There were a number of problems identified with the NCBTMB’s current system. For one thing, some providers have taken advantage of the fact that once they received approval, they could add on classes at will. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition on classes that are based on a product they sell. Some have ignored the fact that there is a prohibition against classes based on religion and/or spiritual practices. Some have ignored the fact that they need to be genuinely qualified to teach in their subject area.

Bruce Baltz, an NCBTMB Board member, mentioned people who teach NMT techniques suddenly throwing in a class in lymphatic drainage needing to be looked at carefully…sorry, but your attendance at a weekend workshop does not qualify you to suddenly start teaching it yourself. The people who have been guilty of these offenses are going to have a little awakening when some of the changes to the program are implemented.

The suggestions for solutions were great and it was interesting to see that when we broke up into small groups to do problem solving, most of the groups were on the same page. Some of the suggestions included requiring providers to submit videos of their classes, a much stricter and more frequent auditing process, an improved evaluation process where students can go online anonymously and evaluate teachers and class content, a required online class for teachers themselves to improve instructor competence…lots of good ideas that the NCBTMB is going to consider and decide which ones to implement.

Every organization and individual at the meeting expressed a genuine interest in assisting the NCBTMB in this endeavor. Even better, they all agreed that all the organizations, not just a choice few, need to come together once or twice a year for the good of the profession. Bob Benson stepped up to the plate on that front and good for him for doing so…AMTA and ABMP can take a few swipes at each other, but in the final analysis, there is room in the sandbox and he knows it.

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful gathering of some of the best and brightest, with the intent of creating a positive outcome, and I was honored to have been included. Paul Lindamood and his team did a great job in organizing the gathering and assembling the best people they could get. And hey, any meeting that includes keeping chocolate on the table at all times does it for me.

If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Backing Up

There have been several developments in the regulation of massage in the past few weeks that I personally find distressing. Earlier this week, Florida Senate Bill 584 moved a step closer to passage. This piece of special-interest legislation would amend Florida’s massage therapy law to allow graduates of certain board-approved schools to obtain a temporary permit and practice for six months without a license, until such time as they fail the exam or become licensed, whichever comes first. Although the bill states that they must work under the supervision of a licensed therapist, the terms of that are not spelled out. Does that mean the supervising therapist is on the premises, in the treatment room, or giving an occasional phone call? This is where boards frequently get into trouble and spend a lot of time with something bogged down in a policy committee—when something has not been clearly defined—and in this case, “supervision” isn’t clearly defined.

New Hampshire is trying to abolish massage licensing altogether, as a cost-cutting, government-reducing move. That would of course mean back to square one, where anyone who knows absolutely nothing about contraindications for massage, endangerment sites, or professional ethics can feel free to call themselves a massage therapist.

Utah just amended their practice act to remove the key word “therapeutic” from the scope of practice definition and added in the word “recreational”, in what is in my opinion a misguided attempt to thwart sexual activity being conducted in the name of massage. Other than the fact that I think House Bill 243 is a big step back for our profession, I was just as shocked that the government relations folks in the Utah chapter of AMTA supported it to start with. I’m an active member of the North Carolina chapter, and I cannot imagine the leadership of our chapter supporting that.

I was gratified a few days ago to see Les Sweeney, President of ABMP, and a few days later Bob Benson, the Chairman of ABMP, weigh in with the same attitude I have about this legislation. Rick Rosen, who is a former Chair of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy, former Executive Director for FSMTB, and currently the Executive Director of AFMTE, made a comment on Bob’s blog that I think nailed the important points of this issue:

The most critical component of the state law for any regulated profession is what’s known as its Scope of Practice definition. The list of prohibited acts in a law is important, but less so than the scope definition. If what you want to do in your massage therapy practice is not listed in the scope, you can’t legally do it.

The Utah action that removed the term “therapeutic” from the scope definition, and added the term “recreational massage” may have the effect of narrowing the scope of practice for massage therapists. At the very least, it takes massage therapy out of the realm of health care and into the murky world of “other business activities”, which includes adult entertainment.

Considerations around enforcement of a Practice Act should not take precedence over the scope itself, and it is not a sound justification for downgrading the law. That’s what has occurred in Utah, and the Licensed Massage Therapists of that state will have to deal with it.

Every single word in statues and rules that regulate the practice of massage therapy is important. What you think it says is not always what it means — or what it will produce in the daily administration of a regulatory program. That’s why we need experienced and competent government relations professionals representing our interests.

I report on the legislation of massage, and I have future aspirations of working in government relations. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years doing research on boards and practice acts, and while I’m certainly not as experienced or learned as Rosen, I think I’m at the point of recognizing a piece of bad legislation when I see it. The way I see it, if you’re not moving forward, you’re backing up.